The Guardian 22 June, 2005


Winning friends in Asia or offending them?

One wonders what really lies behind the ceremonial smiles and smirks in Canberra as Prime Minister Howard and government officials greeted President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan last week.

Is the Australian government really about making friends with all Asian countries and joining the Asian economic and political forums as an equal, or is it the government’s and the media’s intent on finding fault at every opportunity while steadily building up its military power for an eventual big war?

Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of Murdoch’s Australian newspaper is one of those who weighed in with his attacks on Pakistan as though Pakistan was an enemy while welcoming a "terrorist" related agreement between the two countries. Sheridan sees this as "part of the US-led effort to bring Pakistan more fully into the Western camp and the war on terror".

Sheridan trots out a Pakistani tribal rape case (doesn’t Australia have rape cases?), the alleged conveyance of nuclear technology by a Pakistani nuclear physicist to several other countries (isn’t the use of nuclear fission being pushed here with the blessing of the government?) and the earlier support of Pakistan for the Taliban.

Didn’t the US finance and arm al-Qaida in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union in the 1980s?

From all this Sheridan draws the conclusion that "while it’s sensible to encourage Musharraf in the right direction, Australia should not make any false equations between a semi-rogue nation retreating from the brink, such as Pakistan, and Asia’s largest democracy India".

The coverage by the Sydney Morning Herald foreign affairs reporter Cynthia Banham (June 15) is not much better although she does quote Musharraf at the National Press Club making the eminently correct statement that if Australia wanted to help Pakistan fight terrorism it should provide industry assistance in agriculture, livestock and mining, because that was the way to alleviate poverty, one of terrorism’s root causes". He described Australia’s trade relations with Pakistan as "dismal".

The ignorance of Australia’s leaders on this score is revealed by the statement last year of Australia’s Foreign Minister Downer who said that it "misconceives the problem" to think that there were root causes of terrorism such as poverty, disadvantage or political impasses.

What line Howard and his Minister took when holding discussions with President Musharraf has not been revealed. An agreement on "counter-terrorism" was signed showing that the Australian government’s priority was to drag Pakistan into the endless US "war on terrorism".

The idea that Pakistan (and for that matter other Asian countries) are going to be dragged into the US alliance and that President Musharraf is going to become an American stooge is built on sand and is not going to be achieved by the sort of criticisms that have been levelled by the media during his visit to Australia last week. Rather the opposite. Nor will this treatment enhance Australia’s standing in Asia.

Pakistan is an Asian country. Its 162.5 million population are 97 per cent Muslim. It was formerly a British colony and was impoverished by colonisation. It has had a chequered path since independence during which the former colonialists attempted to continue their economic and political control. A running sore was created in Kashmir between India and Pakistan that only now may be on the road to settlement.

The media treatment of Musharraf shows that there is little by way of peace and friendship emanating from Australian quarters otherwise Sheridan could not get away with the remark that Pakistan is a "semi-rogue state". This is a term used when a country is being marked down for criticism, hostility and threats.

The Australian government’s real intentions are more obviously seen in the large military exercises being held now at Shoalwater Bay military training area in north Queensland. These exercises are all about building up an aggressive military might by the US and Australian governments. The exercises involve amphibious landings, bombings, parachute drops, use of nuclear-weapons carrying warships and submarines, tanks and possibly depleted uranium weapons (see The Guardian, June 15). They have absolutely nothing to do with the defence of Australia or the development of better relations between nations, but are aimed at those states that dare to defy the demands of those aspirants to world domination.

It is a stupid, criminal and dangerous policy.

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